Every Friday night of my childhood, my sisters and I would line up in front of my father as he placed his hands on our heads and recited the priestly blessing. This is a tradition that continues to this day, even as my sisters and I are adults with children of our own. In my mind, my sisters and I were fairly well behaved during our blessing. I remember some pushing and shoving around whose turn it was to be in the middle (without a hand directly on your head) but otherwise, I remember us standing still to receive our blessing—although my parents might dispute that.
When I had my own children, I knew I wanted to continue this tradition. I remember the first Shabbat after my oldest was born when, still in the hospital, I placed my hands on his tiny head and recited the words my dad had recited to me every Shabbat. I can feel the tears that ran down my face, and it is a feeling that continued the first time I blessed each of my children.
But then reality set in. For reasons that defy understanding, my children hate being blessed on Friday nights. Even the baby will violently shake her head back and forth until you remove your hand from her. My kids flail and run and shriek and demand that we don’t bless them. Isn’t that so much of parenting? The beautiful moment you had in your mind is destroyed by the reality of children.
But still, every week, we do it. Despite the running away and the ducking under our hands, we recite the priestly blessing to our children. Why do we continue? First, there is a vague notion in the back of my mind that they might one day just stand there and let me bless them. But even if they never stand still, even if they never allow me that sweet moment of cradling their heads, I will persist, because it is as much for me as it is for them.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, in the arguments about homework and what to eat for dinner, and the running to make it to school on time and the meetings and the birthday parties, it can be hard to remember that my children are miracles. Truly the fact that they were born, that they are here and healthy, is a miracle. And it is way too easy to take that for granted. When I ask God to bless my children and shine a light onto them, I am reminding myself of the blessing that they bring into my life and the miracle of their existence.
So no matter how your children behave, I suggest finding a way to bless them. You can use the traditional words of the priestly blessing (in Hebrew or in English), you can make it up each week depending on what they need (or what you need), or you can do a combination, fusing the ancient words with your own to create a new tradition. It is a weekly reminder that it doesn’t have to be perfect, because nothing in parenting is. But for one moment I acknowledge, out loud, the blessings in that imperfection.
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